LOGAN, Utah -
Utah State head football coach Matt Wells, along with senior running back LaJuan Hunt and junior linebacker Derek Larsen, held a press conference Monday to recap the Aggies' 40-24 win over in-state rival BYU and preview their upcoming home game against Mountain West rival Colorado State. A complete transcript of the press conference can be found below.
Head Coach Matt Wells
On recapping the BYU game:
"I'm really proud of our players last week. The biggest thing is I hope we find a sense of togetherness and progress. We got down 21-7, and we didn't fold. We kept fighting. A player made a play, then we got the ball back on offense. It was like clockwork right down the field. Kent (Myers) throws one to Ron'quavion (Tarver) for a touchdown. We find a way to get the ball back and kick a field goal to take some momentum and get the crowd back into it. We folded three weeks ago at Wake Forest in a similar situation. We folded on both sides of the ball, and we couldn't overcome it mentally. So much of this game is mental, it's confidence and it's emotion. I thought we took a big, big step right then and there as a team because I wasn't really sure where we were going right there, so I'm proud of our guys, and we need to find confidence off that and play off that the rest of the year.
"There were a lot of good individual performances. Obviously, Jalen (Davis) had a night to remember. It was a special night for him. Dallin Leavitt played extremely well. Chase Christiansen played well. Ian Togiai probably played the best he's played since he's been at Utah State. He absolutely dominated up front. Now, there were times we didn't stop the run very well as a unit, and he can't do it all by himself. I just thought Ian played extremely physical and really well. Dax Raymond had another really good game. He blocked his tail off. I thought Ron'quavion played well, Kent played well, Zach Van Leeuwen played well. Then our O-line, I thought they played well as a unit. There were times I thought we gave up too much pressure and Kent took some hits that he shouldn't have taken. We didn't protect the passer well and we didn't run the ball well at the beginning of the third quarter, but I thought we finished the game well. If I'm not mistaken, the last 17 minutes of the game, I think we ran it 20 out of 22 times. So, we did exactly what we needed to do to win the football game. It was just short of a six-minute series, which I know ended in a failed fourth-down conversion, but we took close to six minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter and ran the ball, I think 10 out of 11 times in that drive. We did what we had to do to win the game, and I'm proud of my guys for doing that.
"The key to this whole thing is hitting the reset button. Hopefully, we've already punched it at 6:30 this morning when we came in the building. The biggest thing is nobody's ever going to take that victory away. That wagon wheel is staying here for a year. We're excited about it, and it's a great win. But, we have to put that thing in the rear-view mirror. There's a reason the rear-view mirror and the windshield are not the same size. You need to put the things in the past in the rear-view mirror. If you keep focusing on that thing, you're about to crash and have a major wreck. You need to look ahead at what will end up being one of the most talented teams we'll play this year in Colorado State."
On Colorado State:
"They're loaded on offense. They have multiple guys that can play quarterback very well. They have four tailbacks that are all good. They're dirty, nasty and strong up on the front line, and I mean every one of those as a compliment to the O-linemen. They have three legit wideouts and a couple of good tight ends and fullbacks. They are loaded on offense. That needs to get our attention really quick and we need to practice extremely well the next two days for a Colorado State team coming off a big win at Hawai'i. I know how hard that is to go to the rock and win. To win in the fashion they did is impressive. Hat's off to them. Mike Bobo and their coaching staff, I have a lot of respect for. Since, I've been here, we've played Colorado State every year, and it's always a close game. It's always a hard-fought battle. It's very, very physical, and I expect Saturday to be nothing less. It should be a great crowd and great weather. Hopefully, we're as loud and obnoxious of a crowd and have a home-field advantage like we did last Friday night. We gave the students an extra day this weekend to prepare for Saturday, so hopefully they'll come out fully loaded and ready to roll at 2:30 on Saturday because it'll be a big game."
On the home-field advantage at Utah State:
"I haven't been to the new stadium at Colorado State, which we won't until next year, but I'm biased. I think we have the best home-field advantage. I think we have the best crowd and the best student section. But the best student sections and the best crowds show up every week. And the best teams better show up every week. So we need to show up, too. You can't just do it one game. We need to have a great crowd and a great atmosphere. When they're on offense, it needs to be deafening and as loud as we can make it. Our defense needs to play as well as they did last week. We're all in this thing together. We'll all celebrate together."
On how Colorado State's defensive front seven compares to BYU's front seven:
"I'm going to know a little better tomorrow. I've been on all three phases of them just last night and today, so I don't have it down perfect. I'll say this: BYU is bigger in their two D-tackles. They're bigger and heavier. Colorado State is active. Colorado State has a good linebacking corps that has played a lot of football. We've played against those guys. I just think they're strong. They're more active than BYU. BYU is heavy inside. That's probably the first comparison I'd give you. But, there's a lot more similar than different. There's not very many differences, and we struggled protecting. I don't think we protected the passer as well as we needed to last week. I thought we ran it decent. The sacks and stuff obscure the run game numbers, but we ran the ball when we needed to run it late in the game. Early in the game, we were decent. We just kind of stunk in the third quarter."
On any differences between last year and this year with forcing turnovers:
"Just the production. There have been no new techniques taught and no new drills have been taught. Maybe we have emphasized it a whole lot more in practice, especially what we're calling ball searches, which is attempts on the ball. You're starting to see a lot more, in a baseball term, a swing and a miss. When you're the second or third guy in and you're swinging and clubbing and missing, but you have to have those to get them. We had some Friday night that were clinical. When we say that, it's coaches can put this on the clinic tape in the winter when they go speak. This is exactly how you're supposed to do it. I think one of our coaches always says it, `luck follows effort.' When you're getting hats to the ball and you're playing with an extreme amount of passion and effort and you're hustling to the ball, you're usually around those loose balls a little bit more. I think that has to continue. Turnover margin, I said it in here last week, and it proved to be right. We're 18th in the country right now in turnover margin. If we get that into the top 10, I think you'll see Utah State win some more games. It's going to be a big deal. We're doing a better job on offense of being stingy with the ball and taking care of the ball. The pick we threw, that was not Kent's fault, that was not the wide receiver's fault. That was the two blockers' fault. We had a major screw up in the blocking combination out there on the perimeter."
On if he's seen a player have a game in the secondary like Jalen Davis had:
"Nope. Not in one game. I remember in 2012, Will Davis had that string of picks all the way down the stretch when we really got on a roll in October and November. But, the performance Jalen had, being in the right spot at the right time. He made plays, has good coverage skills and anticipated. I thought he baited the QB once with his eyes. Then he has the talent to return. The one was a heck of a run. It looked like a wideout there for a second, is what the offensive coaches are telling me now. That was a performance where you say, `Players make plays, players win games.' He didn't win the game for us, but the two pick-sixes went a long, long ways. Without the two pick-sixes, the offense scored 26 points. Maybe it's enough. Maybe it's 26-24. Maybe the game goes down to the wire, probably, without the two pick-sixes. But, last I looked, you play the whole game. We threw some earlier in the season that put us in a bad spot. It's part of the game, still. It was an outstanding individual performance. I did see one of his interviews after the game, and I'm proud of him. He's a humble kid. He would tell you, and he did, I saw him say it, that it's the pressure the D-line put on and guys playing the right underneath coverage. One of the times, his guy was the second or third read. Ja'Marcus Ingram had his guy covered, Dallin Leavitt had his guy covered, and the guy had to come late to Jalen. That doesn't get written about or talked about, but that's what happened. It's a product of the guys around him, as well."
On successfully targeting Dax Raymond early in games and trying to get him more involved late:
"He's not less targeted later in the game. We just ran the ball 20 out of 22 times late in the game because we needed to in order to win. We didn't need to throw it to anybody to win it. There's no set plan to target him less. He's a good player. He's playing at a high level right now. When the ball is in his hands, we usually move the ball on offense. He makes explosive plays. He's a big part of the offense."
On how happy Dax Raymond, a Provo native, was after winning the game:
"You tell me. He blocked his tail off. I can't say that enough. You guys saw the touchdown catch and all his catches. He made that big block on Kent's touchdown run. He's playing at a high level right now. He's playing confident. It's a rivalry game for us. Our boys from Utah County have bragging rights for a year."
On Colorado State quarterback Nick Stevens:
"I know Nick well and he is a good quarterback. He's a great young man and has a great family. I've known them for a long time. I recruited him. He's playing with a lot of mojo and a lot of confidence. The game looks like it's in slow motion right now to Nick. He put on a clinic at Hawai'i. I mean that was a clinic. Accuracy. You see him making run checks at the line. I would assume they're doing a lot of two-play stuff with him. I assume Mike Bobo has a lot of confidence in him; I would. He's played a lot of good ball. He has a lot of weapons around him, which makes any quarterback confident. He has a run game. I think he's been sacked twice all year. I mean, are you kidding me? That's one of the tops in the country, and last I looked, they played Alabama. He's playing as good as any quarterback in our league right now. He's playing very, very confident. I think he's the key to their whole offense."
On both teams having momentum heading into this game:
"They're playing really well. It's the biggest game of the season right now. It's not just because it's the next game. They're hot. They're playing well. We've had two good games in a row. I think it's going to be a great showdown and a great matchup. It'll be physical. It'll be a bloodbath. It'll be really, really physical on both sides of the ball."
Senior Running Back LaJuan Hunt
On recapping the offense's performance against BYU:
"The offense came out strong and we were attacking and playing fast. That was evident from the first drive, when we were able to score a touchdown and overcome two third-down conversions that would have stopped the drive. From there, we kind of sputtered a little bit toward the middle of the game in the red zone. The red zone is an emphasis and coach (David) Yost harped on it this morning. He said we need to get better in the red zone and score touchdowns, rather than settling for field goals, because that's big and can really take the momentum away from any opponent that we are playing. That will be a continued focus for us. Toward the end of the game, we were able to run off a bunch of clock using the ground game, and we were able to essentially put the game away and win it. As an offense, we played well as a whole, but we've got to clean up a couple of technique issues as with any game, and score better in the red zone."
On if BYU has one of the better rushing defenses the Aggies will face this season:
"I would agree with that and it's funny that you say that because, they actually played a front that we hadn't practiced for or that we hadn't seen at all from them. That was a game-time adjustment, but we were able to open holes later in the game."
On if the team tracks yards after contact:
"Yeah, we look at yards after contact, because that's a telling stat for a running back. If you can get more yards after you are initially hit, it means you are doing something well. You're also putting a physical defense knowing that, `Okay, the first guy won't get him down.' It's taking the second or third guy to get him down, so that's just physically dominating the defense and wearing them down, and creating a physical presence from the offense."
On how much it fuels his fire to beat the Rams this year after the way the team lost at CSU a year ago:
"It fuels it a lot because we had a comfortable lead going into halftime. I feel like we just lost our juice and didn't have the same intensity and effort that we showed during the first half, which allowed them to make a couple of plays and create the momentum shift. Being at their stadium with their home crowd, the crowd got back into it and we just weren't able to overcome that."
On Colorado State's defense:
"I haven't watched too much on their defense yet, but I do know they bring a bunch of physical, hard-nosed guys that can run around and make some plays on defense, which should be another test for us offensively. We are looking forward to the test."
On what it was like for him as a player to have the kind of crowd Utah State had against BYU:
"The stadium was packed. We already knew the HURD would be rowdy and loud, and full of energy. Just from the start, we got the ball first and scored, and the crowd was amped up. It felt like the crowd energy just got louder and louder, and more intense, as the game went on. As a team, we fed off of that, and we love the energy from the crowd. It does juice us up and give us that much more to play for. It helps a lot and it helped tremendously against BYU."
On Jalen Davis' first pick-six helping the Aggies get back into the game:
"From that moment on, the energy changed instantly, and we were back in it. We had our mojo back and from that, we just went on a run."
On not falling off after this big win, like what happened in 2015 after beating Boise State:
"I felt like we got too big-headed and over-zealous about the win, and we didn't focus on the next week and the game we had to play. It's not easy winning Division I games at all, and we felt like just because we beat Boise State, we were just going to roll out our helmets and win, which is not the case playing Division I football. Being on that team, I know how the energy was after the game and the weeks of practice afterward. I know what we have to do so we don't get lackadaisical and lose sight of the next game, which is Colorado State."
Junior Linebacker Derek Larsen
On the defense against BYU:
"The defense played awesome. I can some it up in two words: Jalen Davis. The entire team played amazing for the most part. There are a lot of things we can fix, but going into the game, one of the emphasis we had that coach (Matt) Wells brought up was turnovers. He showed some stats from the past, I think, seven years and whoever won that margin won the game. We had seven turnovers in the game, which was obviously a huge role in the win. It was just guys flying to the ball and showing that extra effort to try and punch the ball out, and we ended up having three fumble recoveries. We need to focus more on the run because they were starting to run the ball on us a little bit, but as a whole, the entire unit played really well."
On it wasn't just by chance BYU fumbled the ball so much:
"You can watch it on the film, there were guys punching at the ball and trying to strip it out. There was one play where Ian Togiai had missed a tackle, but got back up and ran and literally punched the ball from behind and got the ball out. It's just those little extra-effort plays you were seeing all night on film. That's how our defense is. We are a bunch of guys trying to get to the ball and have a rat-tat-tat, and get 11 guys all on film at the end of the play."
On how much pride he has in Utah State leading the nation in turnovers this season:
"It's awesome to be recognized for that, but we can't be complacent. We've got to continue to harp on that because a lot of those turnovers have just come from the past two games and it is going to have to be consistency moving forward, and trying to get more turnovers."
On if there has been an increased effort by the players to get more turnovers this season:
"All throughout training camp, that is one thing all the defensive coaches were pushing, was that it has to be a habit. It can't just be something that you do every now and then. You don't even notice when you're doing it, and that's what it has gotten to for a lot of players; it's just habit for them. When they are the second guy in on the tackle, they are going after the ball, so that's just work from entire fall camp and it's finally starting to pay off. We need to continue to push on it."
On if the linebacker corps as healthy as it has been:
"We have a lot of depth at the linebacker position, because there were a lot of guys that were able to play last year and get some experience, and also this year. When one guy goes down with an injury, there is another guy right there to step in for him without missing a beat. So, that is going to be something for us, is trying to find that mojo as a linebacker group to have a bunch of guys who can all play and make plays out on the field."
On if there is some sort of a rotation with the linebackers:
"Yes, and each week it varies. It is all depending on how the coaches see things and we just trust them in the process and know that they know what is best for the game."
On how much the Colorado State game will show the Aggies exactly where they are as a defense:
"Colorado state is an amazing team and they have shown that with their offense. They can run the ball and they can pass the ball; they can do it in all phases. It's going to be a big test for our defense, having to show that we can play. We're going to have to show the same stuff we did last week against BYU, with effort to the ball - everyone is going to have to get to the ball. The front seven is really going to have to establish a stop-run defense and hopefully, make them one-dimensional. But, they also pass the ball very well. Overall, it's going to be a big test for our defense."
On Colorado State's offensive players:
"There are a lot of talented players on that offense. It's going to be a big test for our defense in showing that we can play, and have a consistent football program on the defense."
On what Utah State has to do better at in stopping the run:
"We have a phrase that says `Do Your Job,' and on defense, if you have 11 players all doing their job at the same time, you'll get the stop. You can't try to do more than you're supposed to and you can't do less. You have to do your job, you have to be in your gap, because that's how our defense is predicated on. There is a lot of movement up front and everyone has to be in the spot they are supposed to be at for the run. That will probably be a focus for us this week, is making sure everyone is doing their job in our defensive scheme."
On what was different between the Wake Forest game and the BYU/SJSU games:
"I think it's just trust. Each guy has got to trust that the other guy is going to do their part. We trust the coaches and they know exactly what we're supposed to run and the play calls we're going to have, and we just need to execute them. All 11 guys on the field need to do their part. If you have one part of the defense, one part of the job, just make sure you do that part and the other guys will do their part."
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